Staff Photo: Jason Braverman — Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Turner (33) is congratulated on the go-ahead touchdown by teammates Mike Cox (42) and Parkview grad Michael Palmer (81) during Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.
ATLANTA Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons were bad, but victorious once again.
Ryan overcame a career-worst five interceptions to lead another fourth-quarter comeback in the Falcons' 23-19 victory over the reeling Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Ryan threw for 301 yards on 28-of-46 passing with the five picks.
Jonathan Babineaux had a momentum-shifting fumble return for a touchdown, Roddy White had another big game and Michael Turner scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter for the Falcons, who improved to 9-1. White had eight catches for 123 yards.
Atlanta owns the best record in the NFC, but still has plenty to prove after another uneven performance against a team perceived to be inferior.
Arizona would certainly trade positions, though. The Cardinals (4-6) dropped their sixth straight game, after starting the season 4-0, and have major issues at quarterback.
The Falcons, who lost for the first time last week at the New Orleans Saints, played like they were suffering from a Bourbon Street hangover. White dropped Ryan's first pass attempt, which was intercepted by Rashad Johnson and returned to the Atlanta 9. That set up LaRod Stephens-Howling's short touchdown run, giving Arizona a 7-0 lead 2 minutes into the game.
Stephens-Howling was the Cardinals' only offense and finished with 137 yards rushing, 113 coming in the first half.
The Falcons dropped two more passes and failed to pick up a blitz on their second possession. The Cardinals capitalized with a 48-yard Jay Feely field goal to make it 10-0 with 11 minutes to play in the first quarter.
"We were kind of sleepwalking through the first quarter of the football game," said Falcons coach Mike Smith. "It shows we're a very resilient football team that is going to find different ways to win. To be successful in the NFL, you're going to have to win games in a lot of different ways. Today we found another way to do it and that was to play good defense in some short fields."
Johnson, Darryl Washington, William Gay, Sam Acho and Kerry Rhodes each had interceptions for the Cardinals. Johnson also recovered a fumble for Arizona, which won the turnover battle 6-2.
The Cardinals led 13-3 in the second, before Babineaux made a game-changing play. John Abraham caused Ryan Lindley to fumble before the rookie quarterback's arm was moving forward. Cardinals players believed the play had been ruled an incomplete pass and were headed off the field with the ball bouncing on the ground. Babineaux alertly scooped it up and strolled into the end zone for the Falcons' first touchdown.
"Multiple players told me they heard a whistle and that's why they stopped," said Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. "We had guys running on the field; they had guys running on the field. Everybody thought the play was over. You always tell them to play through the play, but what do you say to your players when they say they heard a whistle and thought the play was dead."
Babineaux didn't hear a whistle, though.
"We're always taught to finish the play until the whistle is blown," said Babineaux. "I jogged over and picked up the ball, looked at the referee and bolted for the end zone."
Whisenhunt inserted Lindley in the second quarter, after starter John Skelton hit only two of his first seven attempts. The rookie didn't look ready for his first NFL action and finished 9 of 20 for 64 yards. Arizona had 41 net passing yards.
"We said going into the bye week that we were going to make changes if we thought necessary," explained Whisenhunt. "Put players in position that could give us the chance to win and we are going to stick to that. That is what we did today and what we are going to do going forward. We missed some throws but had opportunities early and felt like at that point we would give Ryan (Lindley) a chance to see if he could make those plays."
With the Cardinals trailing 23-19 late in the fourth quarter, Sam Acho picked off a batted ball at the Atlanta 32. But Lindley couldn't lead a drive and his fourth-down pass attempt to Larry Fitzgerald was ruled incomplete.
The Falcons have a comfortable lead in the NFC South, but are in the middle of a stretch of three games in 11 days. They are at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week, before returning home for a Thursday night game against the Saints on Nov. 29.
"We cannot continue to have slow starts on offense," Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "Though we overcame it today against the Cardinals, we have to figure out a way to start fast on a continual weekly basis."
Notes: Atlanta fans are frustrated by RB Michael Turner's production and showered him with boos on his early touches. ... Falcons starting CB Asante Samuel hurt his shoulder on a pass breakup in the first quarter and had to be taken back to the locker room. ... Arizona QB Kevin Kolb missed his fourth straight game. ... Arizona DB/PR Patrick Peterson injured his hamstring in the second half. ... Arizona DE Calais Campbell was inactive with a calf injury.